September 1, 2015

Cora's birth announcements (and an ode to Shutterfly freebies)...

newborn announcements |
I'm pretty much in love with the birth announcements I made for Cora, so I had to share them here! (The hope is, of course, that everyone who is receiving one in the mail and also reads my blog has already received theirs.) In any case, I seriously adore the design I found over on Shutterfly and wanted to share them with you!

For some reason, taking a photo of a photo on a card has made the coloring a bit funny on Cora's face, but in person the cards are absolute perfection.

newborn announcements |
I tried doing a Pinterest-y newborn photo shoot with Cora a couple times, but the photos did not turn out well at all. (I shake my fist at you, Pinterest!) I ended up snapping this photo while she was napping during one her first couple weeks at home, and somehow it just felt perfect for the announcement. Her button nose gives me heart-eyes for days.

newborn announcements | yourwishcake.comnewborn announcements |
I couldn't wait to send these out to some of our friends and family, and—newborn or not—may have stayed up too late addressing envelopes a couple nights in order to do so. (It's probably weird, the level of joy I experience while addressing envelopes. Can I get paid to do that sort of thing? Someone needs to invent that job. And then hire me.)

Although I am an affiliate for Shutterfly, I purchased these announcements myself (I was definitely grateful to have a $20 promo code I received elsewhere and was saving for a rainy day, because that definitely offset the price a bit). I've become pretty good at combining promo codes and discounts in order to get my order to the lowest price possible, though—and always use either my Ebates or Swagbucks account to get to the Shutterfly website in order to get a bit of cash back.

Have I mentioned I'm oddly obsessive when it comes to finding ways to not pay full price for things? It's an issue. A beautiful, beautiful issue.

In addition to these announcements, I was able to add a couple freebies to my order—but I can't show them and all their adorableness to you here because they are being saved to use as Christmas gifts for people who most certainly will see this post. (Sorry!) However, I thought I'd share how I've been able to snag so many Shutterfly freebies over the past couple years. I've been able to get notepads, reusable shopping bags, several photo books, and a few other items for free—usually just paying for shipping, unless I'm adding them to an order for which I was able to qualify for free shopping. I definitely get more for free than I ever have paid for out of my own pocket! 

See below for a some tips:

1. I'm not sure if this is a regional thing or not, but I receive many offers for free Shutterfly items on the little catalina coupons that print out with my receipts after shopping at Vons (or, if you're in a different part of the country, Safeway!). I've received codes for free photo books, placemats, mouse pads, and reusable shopping bags this way.

2. About once every quarter or so, Kelloggs Family Rewards will send me a promo code for something in one of their promotional emails. I would have unsubscribed from these emails ages ago, but I don't want to miss out on these promos! I typically delete all their other emails (sorry, Kelloggs) but they will usually mention the free item in the email subject line when they are offering one. You can sign up for this program here.

3. Although I planned to exclusively breastfeed, I signed up for Enfamil Family Beginnings because they offered a free photo book promo code after I registered. (Clearly, anyone can sign up for this, and I'm assuming this promotion is still available! Correct me if I'm wrong…) You can sign up here.

4. There are a few deal blogs I follow regularly that are sure to mention when Shutterfly has free item promotions going on. A couple of my favorites are Money Saving Mom and Freebie Shark.

5. I discovered while ordering these announcements that Shutterfly actually has a Special Offers tab on their main page where you can often find codes for free items, as well as any other discount codes they are currently featuring. They recently had a promo where any customer could select one free item (I believe you could choose from a mouse pad, notepad and something else I totally forgot). Although this promotion has expired, here are a couple that are currently live! (Please note you'll have to pay shipping for these freebies, unless otherwise noted.)

  — One free card of your choice with code CARD4U. (exp. 9/21/15)
  — If you register as a new customer, you'll receive 50 free prints. (exp. one month after signing up)

Hope this helps some of you out! (And perhaps Cora's button nose has given you some heart-eyes, as well.)

Affiliate links included in this post; view my disclosure policy here.

August 21, 2015

Cora's birth story (part three)...

[read part one here and part two here!]

As the room filled with more of the nursing staff, I picked up bits of the conversation and realized that the on-call OB that was originally supposed to handle my delivery wasn't going to make it. A couple of the nurses were both telling me, "This baby girl wants to be born now!" I tended to agree, based on how I was feeling.

"Okay…I'm pretty sure I need to push!"

I knew that the odds of my actual OB delivering my daughter weren't very high, based on the fact that the office I go to will send whichever doctor is on call the evening you go into labor. (I knew the odds were even less in my favor on that specific day, given that I had a prenatal appointment with my OB scheduled for that morning!) The doctor who delivered Eisley was someone I hadn't met until I started pushing, so it made me realize that a good nursing staff is way more important to me than having one specific doctor there for the actual delivery.

I could tell that Cora was going to make her grand entrance momentarily, so I was grateful when they were able to bring in another OB who was there that evening. (I'm still not sure who she was exactly, and the fact that she looked younger than me felt a little bizarre.) Although there was a bit of a frenzy going on, all the nursing staff—as well as the doctor—were cheering me on and making the moment feel just as exciting as it should be. It reminded me a lot of the same point during Eisley's delivery…everyone seemed genuinely excited to meet this little baby.

As we got set to push, Jay took his place next to me and—much to everyone's surprise—Cora was born after just two pushes.

It was so quick that as she was being born I thought, Wait, that was it? She's already here? Oh, my gosh! She's so little!

The nurses immediately placed her on my chest and Jay cut the cord. We took in all her tiny features and tried to pick out which were similar to her sister's and which were all her own. There were so many different emotions this time around, to be honest. I couldn't believe she was here and that she was so perfect in every way. I couldn't help but think back to one year before when a second child seemed almost impossible, and yet…there she was, held in my arms, absolutely real.

After a while, Jay and I started to wonder when they were going to weigh her and go through the usual newborn checklist. We had certain expectations, I think, simply because just four years before we went through this with Eisley. Once we asked the nurse, we found out that there had been a few changes since our first delivery—first of which was how after a baby is born, they are immediately placed on the mom, skin-to-skin. Then the mom, dad and baby have an entire hour of uninterrupted time together.

(Well, aside from the doctor and nurses finishing up with whatever the mom needs. I mostly blocked all that out again, aside from nurses periodically pressing aggressively on my abdomen.)

I'm so grateful for that first hour we had together, though. Both Jay and I treasured those moments, and it felt so perfect and unrushed.

When they finally weighed and measured her, we discovered that although she was four days past her due date, and Eisley was born five days before hers, that Cora was actually smaller than her sister was. At only 6 lbs. 1 oz. and 18 in. long, she was a teeny tiny baby. But a perfect one.

(And I'll take a tiny baby that comes out in just two pushes any day! Can I get an amen?)

As positive as my birth experience with Eisley was overall, there were a few things that had changed since her birth that made my hospital experience with Cora even better—if that's even possible.

The hospital focuses on keeping the mother and baby together as often as possible, so in addition to the initial one-on-one time immediately following the birth, they also have the baby rooming in with the mama for the entire hospital stay. (Although Eisley did stay in my room, there was a nursery she was periodically taken to…and promptly brought back, because she screamed her little head off.) There is also just one nurse assigned to both mama and baby at any given time, which I loved. It made things feel much more simple and I liked having one nurse focusing on the both of us!

In addition to that, they offer an even greater wealth of support and resources for breastfeeding, and they no longer offer pacifiers to avoid any confusion it may or may not bring a new baby. (As a side note: We are definitely not anti-pacifier and are thrilled Cora takes one here at home, but the idea of not offering it initially at the hospital was kind of nice.) I had a lot of help getting started with breastfeeding, and although it took a couple weeks to truly get the hang of it again, I am grateful I had so much help initially. Whereas I was offered breast shields almost immediately when trying to nurse Eisley in the beginning, they weren't offered at all this time around. They really encouraged me to work with what I had and although they did provide the shields when I asked for them, they continued to help me get the hang of it without them. (And I'm so glad I didn't end up needing them this time!)

Finally, with Eisley, I had to stay a few extra days due to my blood pressure, and the medication I had to be on made me so sleepy and uncomfortable. Thankfully, I didn't run into the same issues this time around and was able to be discharged a mere 25 hours after Cora was born. I love how they have the option of heading home early, as long as mama and baby have had no complications! All I wanted was to be home, sweet home with my entire family.

Although my labor with Cora started out a little rocky, it ended up being a beautiful experience, and I couldn't be happier. Recovery this time around has been almost completely different than with Eisley, and I felt great (aside from the obvious sleepiness) by two weeks postpartum. That has been a huge blessing, because having to take care of so much (and now two children!) while recovering from labor was something I was a little worried about. But it seems like things turned out in the best way possible.

Life with a newborn—and a now four-year-old!—has been a wild ride. Some moments feel like everything is (dare I say it?) almost easy. But then there are moments when Eisley is tantruming at bedtime and Cora urps all over my last clean nursing cami and the kitchen is a disaster and Jay's clothes are all over the floor and our neighbors are having a ridiculously loud conversation and it's 92% humidity and I would kill for a basket of Olive Garden breadsticks.

But at this point, the stretches of peace and calm (as well as nighttime sleep) are getting longer and longer. And as motherhood once again works hard at humbling me something fierce, I daily thank God for what I've been given. So many good things now, and so many good things to look forward to in the years ahead of us.

August 20, 2015

Cora's birth story (part two)...

[read part one here!]

Once I was settled into my room, I was moderately starved because I hadn't eaten any lunch and the last meal I'd had was a bagel at 7AM. Because the nurses were gearing up for what they were assuming was going to be a long labor, they offered to give me lunch before they started moving things along. I scarfed down some turkey and potatoes until a nurse walked in, commenting in passing on how brave I was to go into labor with a full stomach.

Duly noted. I finished half the plate and decided to call it a day with the lunch situation.

At this point in the story, I seem to lose track of time—which is probably because that's just the way it is when you're in labor. It's such an altered state of mind you're in, and things seem to move either unnaturally fast or unnaturally slow (or a little bit of both) and it's just hard to realize how much time has actually gone by. However, I do remember the on-call OB coming in and saying that she wanted the nurses to start the pitocin around 4PM to hopefully encourage my body to start dilating. I also remember telling the nurse right away that if we were going to be going the pitocin route, that I'd definitely be going the epidural route. Please and thank you.

The nursing staff was quite chatty and sweet and completely wonderful. I love when I'm surrounded by people who obviously love what they do! In-between small talk and contractions, I answered the usual barrage of questions regarding my medical history and current pregnancy. Once again, I was sure to mention how my first labor had progressed so quickly once I was in active labor at the hospital. Nevertheless, the nurses still seemed to be anticipating a long evening, so they were in and out of the room and left Jay and I alone for a good portion of the time.

It must have been a little before 4PM that I was starting to really struggle through each contraction as they increased in intensity. One of my nurses took a good look at the chart and said, "Yeah, there's no way we're going to start you on pitocin. Clearly, you are moving right along on your own at this point!" They still hadn't checked me to see how much I was dilated since that morning and I started to get a little panicky as the pain increased at what seemed to be a rapid pace. Once the contractions were less than two minutes apart I was pretty much desperate for someone to check me in case I had reached the point where I couldn't even get an epidural. (Missing the "epidural window" was my main fear. I've heard too many stories of people who either requested the epidural too late or they simple progressed too quickly before the anesthesiologist got there.)

And here's the thing about labor: With Eisley, I ended up getting the epidural right before I hit 8 cm. Even though it's been four years, I remember the pain fairly well. This time around, I really thought that I would be able to power through and possibly (possibly) handle a med-free birth. But now I realize I am just not that person.

God bless you, if you are one of those people.

I know labor pain is different for every woman, and possibly for each individual birth, but I'm not sure I'll even attempt a med-free labor with any future pregnancies. Maybe if I went the birth center route and had a doula talking me through it the entire time—but even then, I'm just not sure I would want to do it…as much as I wanted to at one point.

The pain of my second labor was much, much worse than my first. I almost couldn't believe it, and wish there were words to describe it within a blog post—but I know that is absolutely impossible. For what must have been at least 30 minutes, I couldn't even open my eyes and had to lift myself off the bed with my hands during each contraction to try and tolerate the pain. (To be honest, if I didn't forcefully blow air of my mouth with each contraction, I had a feeling that I'd totally be that person screaming for an epidural.) I just remember thinking about how each contraction felt like fire. Fire, fire, fire. That's the best way to describe it, and now I'm hoping that I'm not terrifying any pregnant women who may be reading this.

(If you're pregnant and reading this, please don't freak out. You'll totally get through it and, as they say, when all is said and done you'll most likely be willing to subject yourself to the madness of labor at least one more time in your life. Also: squishy newborn. You will have one soon!)

Although we had everything set up for the epidural, the news came that there were two emergency c-sections that were keeping both anesthesiologists busy. The nurses offered to give me some morphine, which they said would help with the pain. I believe the nurse checked me around that point (finally!) and I was at 8 cm.—just two away from being ready to push. Which means at that point I probably would have taken a bullet to bite on like some old-timey soldier. So, clearly, I agreed to the morphine.

Unfortunately, the morphine didn't do a darn thing except make me boiling hot, so I kept asking the nurse to just tell me if I'd get the epidural in time. Just tell me, please! I'm sure I was considered a high-maintenance patient at that point, but the contractions were less than two minutes apart and I knew I had to somehow mentally prepare myself if I wouldn't get the epidural in time. If it wasn't going to happen, I needed to know.

At one point, one of the younger nurses tried to put a warm cloth on my forehead and I remember thinking, I am in the worst pain of my life and now my hair is going to be a halo of matted frizz. Even while in pain, I'm such a people pleaser (who cares too much about her hair) so I hoped she would somehow sense my concern and tendency toward natural curl, but alas. I figured if I swiped her hand away during a particularly intense contraction, she wouldn't think I was being a jerk.

So, I finally did, and felt much better about the hair situation, at least. (But I still feel like I should have apologized to the nurse, who was clearly only trying to help. Have I mentioned I'm a people pleaser?)

While I was closing my eyes and wondering how women in ancient times managed to get through labor in the desert heat or completely by themselves or in a barn surrounded by sheep, I noticed Jay had started fanning me with something. (As it turns out, it was one of those cheap toy fans that looked like something you could get at the dollar store. I still have no idea where it came from.) Up until this point, he was mostly keeping to himself in the room, sending updates to our families and such, and helping me when I needed him. I never expected Jay to be a birth coach or anything of that nature, so I was fine with him not being super involved with the labor process. But, mercy. When he started fanning me I couldn't have loved him more. I wanted to kiss him on the mouth but did not have time between contractions and couldn't really formulate coherent words at that point.

Finally, the anesthesiologist rushed in and apologized over and over for not getting there sooner. She looked like she was my age and was so sweet, and I tried to tell her not to be sorry (I honestly felt bad that she felt bad!). I'm sure I looked like a train wreck at that point and was just ridiculously grateful that she was actually there.

I was so far along at that point, and the contractions were so intense, that even after the epidural was in it took at least 10 minutes before I didn't have to breathe through them each time one hit. (During labor with Eisley, I had almost complete relief immediately after the epidural went in.) Still, it was a million times better than I had been before.

Epidurals are my jam.

And I think Jay was just happy to have a break from the incessant fanning.

I must have mentioned to one of the nurses earlier how quickly I had gone from 8 cm. to 10 cm. during my first labor (30 minutes, for the record) because after a short while a different nurse came to check me and announced I was ready. The first nurse exclaimed, "Ha! You were right! You just went from 8 cm. to 10 cm. in thirty minutes!" And thus began what from my view seemed to be a mad dash to find the on-call OB who was supposed to deliver the baby.

(Spoiler alert: she wasn't going to get there in time.)

At that point, Jay and I were so eager to meet this baby girl. I almost couldn't believe it was time to push! As the nurses busied themselves getting everything ready, my eyes went to the white board in the room where a few hours earlier one of the nurses had written in cheerful cursive, "Happy birthday, Cora!"

Yes, it was a good day to have a baby. I was ready.